Given at the Mass in Thanksgiving for Matrimony on 8th June 2019 at Westminster Cathedral
My brothers and sisters, each year I look forward so much to this Mass of the celebration of marriage, the celebrations of your wedding anniversaries. You fill this Cathedral with joy, and your presence inspires in me a real confidence that in our world today there is such goodness, such desire for faithfulness and such generosity in love. I say 'Thank you', to each of you, to each husband and wife, joined in matrimony, blessed by God, a special place of life and love.
Each of you has your own story to tell: of how and where you first met, of how your love for each other has survived the many testing moments, of how your families have grown and children have spread their wings, of how sadness, failure, disappointments have shaped your hearts. I wish I could listen to each of these stories. But instead, you have to listen to me!
This Mass, like every Mass, is, first of all, an act of thanksgiving, a Eucharist. Today you give thanks to God for so many things, for all the gladness which is in your hearts.
This Mass is also an act of witness, a powerful sign of the resilient faith and love found in Christian marriage. You give this witness in a society which, in its public culture at least, prefers to sing about individual freedom, the right to do 'my own thing', a freedom that often becomes a turning away from others: a freedom to sit at home alone on the computer. Your lives give testimony to the deeper truths of our nature: that we find fulfilment when we place service above self and the hard graft of faithfulness above self-sufficiency. We grow when we accept our needs and show our vulnerability, when we know and cherish those places where we recuperate and rest in safety.
Now, would you please have a look at the icon on the front of our booklet, and I thank most sincerely all who have prepared this Mass, all who have put this booklet together and all who contribute to the work in support of marriage, as listed in the last pages. Thank you!
But the icon! It is of the Marriage Feast of Cana and it tells us so much of our celebration today. (Ukrainian icon by Mrs Lyuba Yatskiv).
At the centre of the icon is the bride and bridegroom, crowned and vested in white, with the freshness and purity of their love. They are equal in every way: the foundation of a strong partnership.
Look at their hands, intertwined one with another, with grace and firmness. These are the hands which will strive to build their future life together, working, doing the chores, pushing the pram and the pen, building careers. These are the hands which will caress, comfort and express the love and tenderness that fills the heart. These are the hands which will care for their children, as a mother and father. These are the hands which with age, become toughened, maybe roughened and, God willing, the hands of grandparents.
Perhaps you know the lovely song of Bill Withers, 'Grandma's Hands'. He sang of his grandma's hands that 'clapped in church on Sunday morning', that ‘issued out a warning', that 'soothed a local unwed mother', that 'used to ache and sometimes swell', that 'picked me up each time I fell'. He concludes 'If I get to heaven, I'll look for Grandma's hands!'
But back to the icon. Above the hands of the newlyweds are another pair of hands, those of Mary and her Son, Jesus. These hands express beseeching and blessing. Here is Mary, pointing to the anxious steward and, a little sternly, asking her Son to respond. In his turn, Jesus offers his mother both a reassuring touch and a blessing.
This is the reality within which we live our lives: the real presence of a loving mother, Mary, who pleads on our behalf, and the reassuring touch and blessing of our Blessed Lord. I hope that this reality is reflected in your homes with symbols, statues of both Mary and Jesus, presiding over your family life just as they oversee this beautiful icon of the Marriage Feast at Cana.
I have been to Cana a number of times. There are two things that always come to the fore. The first is the combination of those on the pilgrimage who joyfully renew their marriage vows with those fellow pilgrims who weep because their loved ones are no longer with them. Their hearts ache with sorrow. So too today we remember and pray for all those who, for whatever reason, are no longer united with those who were once their beloved. We pray for them and for all who live with a broken heart.
The second thing about Cana is, of course, the wine. The wine jars there are immense! In the icon, at first sight, it looks as if most people are holding something resembling an 'art deco' mobile phone. But they are glasses of the wine, the wine of joy, soon to run out but then to be replenished, to excess, by the command of Jesus.
This is the wine of the Holy Spirit, the wine which we pray will be constantly refreshed in your lives. Today, as we celebrate this first Mass of Pentecost, let us pray for all married couples that they receive in full measure the gifts of joy and gladness, for the gifts of faithfulness and unity. These are the gifts of the Spirit on which we are to set our hearts, to which we are the best of witnesses in our families and the world today. Let it indeed be so.
Holy Spirit, Lord of Light,
From the clear celestial height
Thy pure beaming radiance give.
Come, thou Father of the poor,
Come with treasures which endure,
Come, thou light of all that live.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew,
On our dryness pour thy dew,
Wash the stains of guilt away.
Give us comfort when we die,
Give us life with thee on high,
Give us joys that never end.
(Veni Sancte Spiritus. Sequence for Mass of Pentecost)
‘Grant we pray, Almighty God, by these bright rays of the Holy Spirit ... confirm the hearts of those born again by your grace. Amen.’ (Collect of the Mass of Pentecost)